Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Women's Self Defence - Fighting With Facts

Based on my blogs concerning Women's Self Defence (WSD), I recieved an email asking my advice on a particular WSD issue. Firstly, thank you considering myself as having something to contribute to your efforts. Secondly, kudos on seeking out more information before attempting to advise women on their own safety. This attitude is relatively rare within the martial arts and those activities associated with preparing a person to survive a violent encounter. Opinions abound; facts are often not considered.

I've chosen a WSD course website at random and do not intend to name it. It is fairly typical of the rhetoric associated with WSD courses.

Unfortunately violence is on the increase in our society. Is it? Is it really? Based on what facts? Some would argue that our reporting of violence has increased; or that the media reporting of violence has increased thereby increasing our appreciation of the level of violence in our society. I once saw a report that Australia was the third highest most violent country in the world, more so than Spain. The reason Australia is the third hightest most violent country in the world is because we report violent crimes. When we report violent crimes, they get reported in the media. Viola, violence is on the increase and we have a violent society.

Has violence increased in our society compared to times gone by when Australian 'aboriginals' or 'native Americans' were systematically hunted down and killed? Was it more or less violent in our society in the 1600s or now, when weapons were the norm in civilian society rather than when they are regulated today? If you are going to suggest violence is on the increase, at least specify a base. Maybe the 1960s when we could leave our doors unlocked when we went out or went to sleep. Some argue that until recent events the 1960's had been our most violent decade of the century.

These courses, and often martial arts, are marketed on fear. We have four times as many negative emotions as positive ones because negative emotions are designed to ensure our survival and positive ones are designed to take advantage of an opportunity. Evolution gave us four times more negative emotions because if we don't survive, we don't reproduce. If we don't take advantage of an opportunity, we still survive and another opportunity will always come along, and we still get to reproduce. So, to protect us, evolution over compensated on the negative emotions, including fear. Fear and ignorance: the fodder of the media; the fodder of politics; and the fodder of self defence courses.

I have a friend who has gone through some pretty rough times. She purchased a pair of Wonder Woman undies which have become a bit of a symbol for her strength and independence. She suggested she was going to develop a women's fitness course and call it Wonder Women Fitness. Wow, I thought. What would I call a WSD course. 'Vulnerable people', 'You're weak but we'll try and fix that', 'Defend yourself cos you are the weakest of the herd' course. I've seen 'Fight Like a Girl' - ~. While that name is intended to be taken a number of different ways, it still originates in weakness. What about Wonder Woman something. Something positive, not based on fear but on strength. Something that says we are building on your inherent strengths, and not trying to fix your inherent weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Of course part of that course would be knowledge. Real knowledge based on supportable facts - knowledge is power.

It is not a martial arts course, it’s an educational program. I can guarantee you that not a lot of 'real' research went into the development of most WSD courses. A lot of opinion has gone into developing them, but very little real, unbaised research. All you have to do is look at the absence of 'intimate assault' strategies.

created the xxx method to specifically address the most common sexual assault scenarios women of all ages are likely to face. If so, this would be the first WSD course that focuses on sexual assault from intimates, people the assaultee knows. Statistically, the biggest threat to females is posed by people they know. The strategies to deal with someone you love and trust who now want to assault you are very different to the strategies aimed at dealing with a stranger assault. We need to cater for both.

Every criminal has two fears. Criminals fear being caught and they fear being hurt. The course provides ample opportunities for the attacker to face both of those fears. What bollocks. If criminals feared being caught then harsher punishments would act as a deterient. It has been shown time and time again that this is not the case. Harsher penalities only make those imposing them feel like their doing something, rather than actually doing something that might deal with the problem. People do not do a cost-benefit analysis when deciding to commit a crime. I recently watched a National Geographic documentary on Casuarina, Western Australia's maximum security prison. A recidivist prisoner explained that he wasn't thinking about any punishment whatsoever whenever he committed any crime.

Did the bikie that threw the young New Zealander out of the first floor window of a Perth pub killing him fear being hurt? Did the serial rapist in New Zealand who when asked by one of his vicitms what she had done to deserve this replied that she had done nothing, that he was just a bastard, fear being hurt?

Does the husband that beats his wife fear being hurt? Does the date that rapes his date fear being hurt? Does the drunken idiot that won't take no for an answer fear being hurt?

What nonsense.

Studies show that half of all attackers will break off their attack if the woman simply indicates she is willing to resist. Finally. An indication that some research might have gone into the development of a course that is supposedly intended to inform and assist a woman to survive a violent encounter.

Studies show that women who resist are not injured any more than women who don’t resist. Yes they do. Kudos for doing some research.

The program teaches women elements of awareness, avoidance and self-defence. Awareness and avoidance - before an attack. Self defence - during an attack. What about after an attack? William Haddon, the father of injury science, analyed injury events using temporal phases. Before, during, and after an injury event. The idea is to prevent an injury, and if you can't to reduce the severity or longevity of the injury. What do WSD courses do to reduce the sequelae of an attack? Is only demonstrating that women who resist an attack reduce their risks of being successfully attacked revictimising those who do not resist, for whatever reason? What is being done to help those people understand and cope with the effects of an attack?

The original email was in regards to the use of keys as a weapon of self defence. It is commonly taught to hold your keys between your fingers to strike or scratch with. Have you tried it? The car key I have with the bulky handle for electronically opening and closing the car door provides a great support for the key to use as a weapon. My stand-alone house key is tough to hold between the fingers when striking with it. Scratching? I tried that. Keys are by design, blunt. It is very tough to scratch a person with a key held between the fingers with no support like the base of the aforementioned key. I've got red marks on my arm, however, no penetration of the skin was achieved.

I'd go back to the non-controversial weapon of a heel-palm or hammerfist strike to the nose. It is tough to teach a person to punch with a fist, let alone kick. Check out Applegate's Kill or Get Killed and Fairburn's Get Tough. They teach the military and law enforcement NOT to punch, but to use a heel-palm strike, hammerfist, or shuto (knife hand). Nancy Wake used the latter to kill a Nazi sentary during WWII as reported in my blog dedicated to the story of Jan de Jong. Using the heel-palm strike does not run the risk of breaking a bone in the hand or wrist. It doesn't run the risk of being ineffective due to a misaligned wrist. It is relatively easy to use and is effective when directed to the nose or the jaw. Why go for the keys between the fingers which is questionable and difficult when you have this weapon at hand (pun intended).

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

You Are Not Defenceless

I'll aim these comments at females, but they are equally applicable to males.

The first thing I would do if conducting a women's self defence course would be to ask the participants, who among them felt they are defenceless. Many may as they have enrolled in a self defence class to gain defensive capabilities. The first thing I would tell the participants is that they are not defenceless. If they were, they would never have been born.

Nature provides humans with a pretty effective defence system. It's pretty effective because we are here. Those that possessed this evolved defence system survived and reproduced passing those traits down to successive generations. Those that did not possess this evolved defence system were defenceless and died, thereby not being afforded the opportunity of passing their defenceless traits down to successive generations.

If you want to see how effective our evolved defensive mechanism is, just read the following newspaper article of a woman's fight for survival. I'll provide certain comments that arise from my work on Beyond Fight or Flight, and it can be seen that the previous blog informs this article.
Perth mother struggled through tears today describing her desperate fight for survival as her estranged husband repeatedly stabbed her and the moment her three-year-old son witnessed the attack.

Lisa Ann Petrelis, 38, is giving evidence at the Supreme Court trial of her husband and father of her two sons, Alexander Nicholas Petrelis, who is fighting an attempted murder charge.

Mr Petrelis, 38, pleaded guilty to causing grievous bodily harm but the prosecution rejected that offer.
Why GBH and not attempted manslaughter? Is there such a thing as attempted manslaughter in WA? I'm always amused at the reduced sentence for attempted homicide. Even though a person had the intention of killing another person, they are rewarded with a lesser sentence because they were incompetent and did not achieve their objective. To my mind, if a person intends to kill another person, and trys to kill that person, it's one and the same if they succeed or fail. You can see the same oddity in many other crimes. Attempted sexual assault - a person gets a lesser sentence because they were rubbish at sexual assault.
Mrs Petrelis said her husband had tapped on her bedroom window at her Karrinyup home at around 11pm on December 5, 2010. She said when she let him in he was talking in a stressed tone, was breathing heavily and told her he had cancer and felt sick.

Mrs Petrelis said her husband eventually asked to be let out and when she walked towards him he suddenly lunged at her, started hitting her and backed her into a corner.

She said she was screaming at him to stop and telling him he would wake their two sons, but it took her a while to realise she was being stabbed as well with her own carving knife that she left on the kitchen sink after making herself a chicken sandwich earlier in the night.

Mrs Petrelis estimated she was hit or stabbed 50 to 60 times during the initial attack.

"I ended up screaming I’m being stabbed, I’m being stabbed ... but being stabbed didn’t hurt, I guess the adrenalin was going through. Somewhere in there I knew I had been stabbed," she told the jury.
Here we see the effects of the evolved physiological response associated with fear - hormones being released which result in increased pain tolerance. This evolved response is designed so that injury does not interfere with our efforts to flee or fight. Serious injuries did not interfere with Mrs Petrelis' fight for survival.
Mrs Petrelis said after slipping on her own blood, she ran to get her mobile phone but her husband chased her into her bedroom where he continued the attack. She said after hitting her in the head while on top of her on the bed, they ended up on the floor where he put her in a headlock and his arm was constricting her windpipe.
As will be seen below, there was considerable amount of blood letting. The evolved physiological response associated with fear is to shunt blood away from the periphery to the muscles that need it to flee. This reported experience has intrigued me to look further into the effects on blood flow when our defensive mechanism has been activated.
"My son (Nicholas) was watching, he turned the light on," she said.

"I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t scream, I couldn’t do anything. I was about to pass out.

"Nicholas was screaming mummy, mummy, mummy, stop daddy stop. Amongst it all, Alex turned around and told Nicholas go back to your room in the most calmest, monotone voice and then continued to belt me."
Recall the division of aggression into emotional aggression and instrumental aggression. The calm, monotone voice suggests instrumental aggression. This may have legal implications and physiological implications for Mr Petrelis.

This incident reminds me of the advice provided in the women's self defence course developed by Debbie Clarke. The women were advised to instruct their children to not come to mummy's aid if they heard her screaming, but instead to run next door for help. You don't want your defenceless children - and they are defenceless which is the reason they remain with their parents far longer than offspring of any other species - to come running into the middle of a violent situation. Debbie had an ingenious and multi-use method of instilling this behaviour in the children without scaring the bejesus out of them. She advised that fire drills be taught at home (isn't it interesting that we conduct fire drills at work, but not with the ones we are suppose to love) and that the children be taught to get out of the house and go for help. Many children die in household fires attempting to find their parents. A screaming mummy is the same as a fire; don't come to mummy's aid, get out of the house and get help.
Mrs Petrelis said in a desperate final attempt to free herself she put her hand down her husband’s pants and pulled hard on his genitals and bit his finger hard.
An evolved defensive behavioural response. Nature was fighting hard to help Mrs Petrelis survive.
She said after he released her he came at her again and she pulled him over her shoulder as they fell into the bathroom where he hit his head against a wall.

Mrs Petrelis said this was her only chance to escape and she knew her husband wouldn’t hurt her son, so she left him in the house and ran for her life outside screaming out into the street. She said she saw her husband run away in the other direction.
If the husband was engaged in instrumental violence, no emotions would have been activated. No emotions activated, no hormones released which increase pain tolerance. Would the husband have felt the pain associated with the pulling on his genitals and biting of his finger if he was in a rage?

The striking, biting, and genital pulling did not provide Mrs Petrelis with an opportunity to flee, but the husband hitting his head when he fell did. Is this suggestive of an increased focus on takedown techniques being taught as women's self defence techniques?
The jury has been told that Mrs Petrelis was stabbed up to 25 times, including two potentially fatal wounds which punctured a lung and perforated her bowel.

Yesterday at the start of her evidence, Mrs Petrelis told the jury how her five-year marriage had disintegrated to the point where she took out a violence restraining order against her husband in November 2010.

But she said she allowed him to breach the order by making contact with her and visiting the house because she was scared he would become aggressive if she refused.

Mrs Petrelis said her husband had made verbal threats against her in the months before the stabbing attack, including telling her "you better sleep with your eyes open tonight" and "you better not use a pillow because I’ll smother you with it."
Don't judge. Domestic abuse is a complicated issue. Maybe the electronic tagging of VRO recipients being considered (see previous blog) may have given Mrs Petrelis the confidence to refuse the husband's request to visit the house. We have to remember, while we talk about the protection afforded by the law, and enforced by law enforcement, these women more often than not have to deal with these issues alone. The law can apprehend and punish, it struggles with prevention.
Mr Petrelis is arguing he never intended to kill his wife.

His lawyer Tom Percy said his client admitted being responsible for his wife’s life-threatening injuries, but was high on amphetamines at the time.

Mr Percy described his client’s actions as a "savage and frenzied attack" which was "born out of anger, frustration and disappointment".
I won't even go near the diminished capacity defence due to being under the influence of drugs as I'm aware it is a controversial issue. The last statement is interesting in terms of emotive violence vs instrumental violence. Was Mr Petrelis experiencing an emotion (anger) at the time of the attack, or was it emotionless? It may have been 'born' of anger, but was that emotion being experienced during the attack. An emotion fueled act lends itself to manslaughter as the law recognises that our emotions are designed to not be easily overridden by cognition.
Photographs taken inside the Karrinyup home shown to the jury reveal blood splatters on several walls and a big pool of blood on Mrs Petrelis’ bed.

Mrs Petrelis said she was in hospital for nearly two weeks, some of her bruising took close to three months to subside and she wore an arm brace after stab wounds, one of which went straight through her upper arm, severed tendons to three fingers.
You'll notice there is no mention of the word 'victim' to describe Mrs Petrelis. She is no victim; she is a survivor; she is a fighter. Kudos Mrs Petrelis. Kudos Mother Nature.

Do you think Mrs Petrelis' experience acts as a source of support, or even inspiration? We can fight. We can survive. Even against great odds.

Aside from her physical wounds, Mrs Petrelis and her son will need to be aware of the potential for post traumatic stress. Our evolved defensive mechanism kicking in after the danger has pasted. Good luck Mrs Petrelis.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Domestic Violence

I read an editorial in the newspaper yesterday. It was either written by the author of Violence In Our Homes: Protecting The Vulnerable or about that paper. The paper is a WA Labor Discussion Paper concerning domestic violence in Western Australia.

The paper states that Labor is committed to a raft of things associated with reducing domestic violence. Labor, as is any political party or politician, is committed to being elected. They see this as an issue they can use to get elected. If the community does not actively support the issue via votes, then it'll be dropped without hesitation in favour of the next issue that the political party or politician is 'passionately committed' to. This is an important issue, and it's up to us to inform ourselves on it, and often to deal with ourselves. Even if we are fortunate enough not to experience domestic violence personally, I can guarantee you that some of your friends, relatives, work colleagues, or someone you know will be. It would help if we could help them in a meaningful way, and that can only come about through understanding and education. Thankfully that is one of the recommendations of the paper.

My interest in domestic violence (from an academic perspective) has increased after my involvement with a women who has recently emerged from a long-term abusive relationship. I found the knowledge gained in researching Beyond Fight-or-Flight enabled me to understand, and at times explain, what was going on. I was astounded how well theory fit with experience; how theory informed experience; and how theory could help experience.

I thought I'd just share a few thoughts raised by the paper.
Historically, violence against women was explained and excused as a manifestation of traditional male authority. Consequently, domestic and family violence came to be regarded as a private matter that was unsuitable for outside interference. Although 98% of people today agree that domestic violence is a crime, a culture of silence pervades the issue. Both perpetrators and victims hide domestic and family violence and often the community turns a blind eye. While steps have been taken to increase public awareness through legislative reform, educational campaigns and media advertisements, women may remain reticent to report or pursue prosecutions of violence.
The editorial made a comment that isn't fully explored in the paper. It referred to how we label this experience/crime, 'domestic' violence. It suggested that the very label changed the perception of the violence. It was domestic, in-house, private, a family matter.

Words matter. Labels matter. They shape our perception, and therefore our behaviour. The Canadian military (if memory serves) no longer refer to PTSD as a mental disorder or condition because soldiers did not tend to seek treatment for a mental disorder or condition. To experience a mental disorder or condition is to be weak for a soldier. So, PTSD is now referred to as a 'combat injury', which it is. Soldiers have no problem seeking help for an injury. They understand an injury. There is no stigma attached to an injury.

The first thing I'd advise the authors of the proposed report is to change the name. 'Protecting the Vulnerable' - the self esteem of those who suffer abuse is already at a very low ebb, now they are being labelled as 'vulnerable'. Weak. It's similar to the use of 'victim' to refer to those who have survived sexual assault. They are no longer 'victims' but 'survivors'. Both terms may be accurate descriptions, but we as human beings invest emotional meaning into terms. A victim implies being helpless, a survivor implies strength. My friend is not a victim of abuse, she survived abuse.

Children who are exposed to domestic and family violence learn abuse from a young age and are more likely to continue patterns of violence.

Here we have our first contentious issue - the heated debate over physically punishing our children. Physical punishment is violence. The violent behaviour has a different motivation (hopefully), but the behaviour is still violence. Violence being used to punish and to change behaviour for the better. This violence is sanctioned by law as long as it is confined to family members. It's not too much of a leap to then extend the idea from your children to female partners.

I recall playing pool in a pub in the 1990s. A challenge was accepted from a male and female couple. I got talking to the women, who explained that her boyfriend hit her on the odd occasion, but that it was OK because she deserved it. I did not agree; possibly a little too loudly, and possibly a little too sarcastically. I might have referred to her boyfriend as Maynard G. Krebs, the hippie character from the TV series, The Many Loves of Dobbie Gillis (who incidentally was fashioned on the hippie character, Shaggy, from Scooby Doo). The boyfriend had a little beard on his chin like Krebs. Long story short, Maynard, and his four friends, took exception to my conversation, characterisation, and comments - so a pool cue was introduced to my face, and then the four friends introduced themselves to me. Suffice it to say, I now know the 'eagle-claw' technique to the throat is really very effective.

My point is that the right to physically punishment in a relationship is a cultural issue as much as it is a legal issue. Violence is violence, and violence can be violence. If it's sanctioned in certain situations, then why not in those that are only slightly different.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, one in three Australian women have experienced physical violence since the age of 15, and almost one in five have experienced sexual violence. ... In 2006-2007, 53% of female homicide victims in Australia had an intimate relationship with the offender.

Truly horrendous statistics. I have three adopted nieces, and these statistics are a call to action for me. Not only in discussing these issues with them to better prepare them, but also in my views on violence generally in society. For instance, in the case of the abovementioned Krebs incident, why were not the police involved. It was an assault, and we shouldn't tolerate assaults. We should not accept violence as a normal way of dealing with situations in our society.

Those who teach womens self defence courses; do you also teach your female students to actively teach their sons respect for women. Every male abuser is the son of some women. It's long been understood that mother's can have a significant influence on their sons. Surely we can extend the concept of womens self defence courses to much more than simply looking after ourselves. Maybe this might have the effect of further empowering the women undertaking the course.

The paper identifies 'vulnerable groups': indigenous women and girls, women living in remote communities, women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, women 45 years and older, women with a physical or intellectual disability, and gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and intersex communities. Bollocks!

Any women can find themselves in an abusive relationship. My friend has told me of a lot of women who have approached her after she publicly admitted she was in an abusive relationship and that she got out of it. The women who have approached her are in an abusive relationship - none of them fit into the aforementioned vulnerable groups. And its scary how many there are.

There was an article in The Age about a 'successful professional businesswomen,' Pamela, who now shares her experiences of being in an abusive relationship.

Not being considered 'vulnerable' can in itself create additional pressures.
'I couldn't tell anyone, I was so ashamed and embarrassed that I was this smart, sophisticated professional woman who was putting up with this bullshit at home,'' she says.
This was the exact same comment I heard from my friend. One of the frustrating things I've found is that the abusive experiences and effects are so common place and written about over and over again, they become cliches. But for those who prefer to become informed rather than rely on their own biased, often self serving albeit well intentioned, opinion, there is a lot of information available that can truly help.

The paper refers to women not reporting domestic violence or seeking help as a result of fear. It is a FAR more complex issue than just fear. Domestic violence involves a person with whom the abused has an intimate relationship with. He is the father of their children. They promised to love each other through the good times and the bad - this is just one of the bad times.
Danny Blay, head of No To Violence, an agency that co-ordinates programs for men who are violent to their families, says Pamela's experience is familiar. 'I wish we had a buck for every time a woman called our service and said, 'I don't want the relationship to end, I just want the violence to stop,''' he says.
There are a million reasons not to leave an abusive relationship - and all need to be treated as valid. To question them simply revictimises the abused.

'Why didn't you leave?' The most insidious of questions. One of the recommendations in the paper is:
Enhance current training programmes and develop new comprehensive training programmes for Western Australian police, prosecutors, judges and health care providers to develop sensitised understandings of domestic and family violence.
Agreed. Lesson number one - do NOT ask the abused why they did not leave. It was interesting, and frightening, that this was exactly the question my friend was asked by the police when she first reported her abuse to the police. In 2012, with all the information available and all the training that is done, and still one of the first questions asked reinforces in the abused that they are useless.

There are a number of objective reasons proposed for a woman not leaving an abusive relationship. The kids, financial dependence, isolation, etc. One that is only now starting to be considered, and which I've touched on before in previous blogs is the natural behavioural response of 'learned helplessness.' A person cannot see there is anything they can do to change their position; even though we on the outside see 'obvious' solutions, and don't mind telling the abused so.

'I didn't even know I was in an abusive relationship' my friend told me, 'How stupid am I'. Most abusive relationships don't start out with full-on violent assaults. Abuse is an insidious process, creeping up on you. I used the boiling frog analogy (to great effect). A frog put in a pot of boiling water will immediately jump out. Put a frog in a pot of cool water and then slowly increase the heat, and the frog will remain and boil to death.
Within six months he had moved into the home she was paying off. Their first few months were happy, and while he appeared to have 'slight anger problems, I didn't think anything of it'. Within a year the violence had started.
The paper includes are recommendations school education and awareness through various campaigns. Are you going to rely on the government to deal with this issue that may, and the chances are high, affect your daughters, granddaughters, nieces, sisters, female friends, etc? This issue needs to brought out into the light. It needs to be discussed, objectively, and with informed opinion. We have to develop a culture where those who have experienced abuse do not feel embarrassed or ashamed. We also have to develop a culture where those men who are, or have the potential, of abusing their partner, or children, recognise it as abuse and have the opportunity of seeking help to remedy the problem. Demonising them does nothing except make us feel superior and prevent them from seeking help.